Wires

Japanese warship departs for Gulf of Oman to protect commercial vessels

Tim Kelly

YOKOSUKA, Feb 2 (Reuters) - A Japanese warship left its port near Tokyo on Sunday on a mission to protect merchant ships and oil tankers passing through the Gulf of Oman that supply 90% of Japan's oil, as tension in the Middle East simmers.

The helicopter destroyer Takanami and its 200-strong crew will operate with two P-3C maritime patrol aircraft to guard ships heading for Japanese ports.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government said it is prepared to authorise force to protect ships in danger - a controversial decision because Japan's war-renouncing constitution forbids the use of military force to settle international disputes. (Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Christopher Cushing)